狼灾记 | The Warrior and the Wolf

The Warrior and the Wolf

A father figure in contemporary Chinese cinema, controversial avant-garde auteur Tian Zhuang Zhuang is back with a rewarding work of fearless art. A departure from his free-spirited early works and the cautious intimacy of his later films, The Warrior and the Wolf is the captivating adaptation of a short story by the prolific Japanese writer Yasushi Inoue. In the Era of the Warring States, before the unification of China, thousands of soldiers are dispatched to fight the enemy and conquer nomadic tribes. Sent to remote regions at the edges of the known world, the soldiers encounter many adversities, and the brutal challenge of survival often brings out the worst human instincts. But valiant Lu Chenkang belongs to a different breed. He is brave, loyal and extremely skilled in the art of war. Nevertheless, he is kind-hearted and averse to murder. Though he has a pet wolf cub, he keeps his own animal instincts at bay. When his commander and friend, General Zhang Anliang, is badly wounded just before the incipient winter, Lu takes over command of the troops. Forced to find shelter in the village of the mysterious Harran tribe, he discovers a beautiful young woman hiding in his refuge. A widow shunned into solitude, she has a fierce personality and fights Lu in every way she can before surrendering to his passionate embrace, having fallen for him against her better judgement. She seems to possess the strange ability to take his mind to a place where memories collide with dreams and legends – a place where humans were once wolves.

Directed by Zhuangzhuang Tian | Starring : Jô Odagiri, Maggie Q, Chung-Hua Tou, Zhiwen Wang | Presented at Toronto Film Festival, Rome Film Festival, Hawaii Film Festival

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吴清源 | The Go Master

The Go Master

The latest film from celebrated Fifth Generation director Tian Zhuangzhuang, The Go Master shines a light on the life and times of Wu Qingyuan. Better know by his Japanese name Go Seigen, Wu is considered the greatest Go player of the 20th century, his talents bringing him from his native China to a professional career in Japan when he was only a teenager. Based on Wu’s autobiography, this elegantly shot and remarkably restrained biopic follows the life of a singular figure, fascinating not only for his genius and achievements in the game of Go, but also for his unique experiences as a Chinese man in Japan during an immensely turbulent period in history. With the breakout of the Sino-Japanese War in the 1930s, Wu Qingyuan and his family are thrown into an uncomfortable and dangerous position as Chinese nationals residing in Japan. While Wu’s family returns to China, he chooses to stay behind in his adopted country to continue to pursue the game of Go. In the quiet recluse of his school, there are no politics, only the singular dedication to his art and the love for his wife Kazuko. However, the chaos of the times eventually forces him out of his enclave, throwing his life and mind into conflict. Wu joins a cult in a sober pursuit of faith and his own ongoing battle to come to terms with himself.

Directed by Zhuangzhuang Tian | Starring : Chen Chang, Sylvia Chang, Xuejian Li, Ayumi Ito, Yi Huang | Presented at New York Film Festival, Rome Film Festival, Hong Kong Film Festival, Ankara Film Festival, Shanghai Film Festival, Bangkok Film Festival, Cinemanila Film Festival

小城之春 | Springtime in a Small Town

Springtime in s Small Town

Liyan and Yuwen live in post-war torpor, childless but with Liyan’s school-aged sister. He coughs, imagining he has tuberculosis; Yuwen embroiders; they sleep in separate rooms. A surprise visit from Liyan’s boyhood friend Zhang, a big city physician, wakes up the household. To Zhang’s amazement, he discovers his friend’s wife is his own youthful sweetheart. Possibilities abound: an affair, an arranged marriage of Zhang and Little Sister, now 16, or simply ending ennui and embracing vitality.

Directed by Zhuangzhuang Tian | Starring : Jingfan Hu, Jun Wu, Bai Qing Xin, Xiao Keng Ye, Si Si Lu | Presented at Venice Film Festival, Toronto Film Festival, New York Film Festival, Chicago Film Festival, Vancouver Film Festival, Tromso Film Festival, Rotterdam Film Festival, Buenos Aires Film Festival, Istanbul Film Festival, Hawaii Film Festival

蓝风筝 | The Blue Kite

The Blue Kite

Told from the perspective of a young boy, Tietou, this film traces the fate of a Beijing family and their neighbors as they experience the political and social upheavals in the 1950s and 1960s China.

Directed by Zhuangzhuang Tian | Starring : Liping Lü, Cunxin Pu, Xuejian Li, Xiaoying Song, Ping Zong | Presented at Toronto Film Festival, Chicago Film Festival, New York Film Festival, Tokyo Film Festival, Hawaii Film Festival

大太监李莲英 | Li Lianying, the Imperial Eunuch

Li Lianying

Tian admits that this chamber epic was not a ‘personal’ project; for a film which began shooting only a few months after the Tiananmen Square massacre, it certainly feels more like a flight into history than even an oblique response to the moment. Spanning the last five decades of the Qing Dynasty, it centres on the oddly affectionate relationship between Empress Dowager Cixi and her chief eunuch; the stars were a real life couple at the time. The often filmed historical facts are rehearsed efficiently enough: the folly of deflecting naval funds to the building of the Summer Palace, puppet emperor Guangxu’s ill fated bid for autonomy as a reformist and so on. But the film is vindicated by its prime mover Jiang Wen’s colossal performance as Li; no other actor has ever gone deeper into the implications of castration and living as a neutered animal.

Directed by Zhuangzhuang Tian | Starring : Wen Jiang, Xiaoqing Liu, Fan Xu, Xu Zhu, Jiali Ding | Presented at Berlin Film Festival

盗马贼 | The Horse Thief

The Horse Thief

One of the most spectacular films to emerge from the New Chinese Cinema is Tian Zhuangzhuang’s Horse Thief. It tells the tale of Norbu, a horse stealer, who is driven out by his tribe in an effort to purge it of evil. Forced to live in harsh isolation with his family, Norbu repents after the death of his son, but he must revert to stealing after the birth of another child. Using this simple narrative, with a minimum of dialogue, Horse Thief creates a visually spectacular work. It fills the screen with gorgeous Buddhist rituals captured in great detail and the vast empty landscape of Tibet accented by a dramatic use of widescreen photography. Breathtaking and mystical, Horse Thief “has the epic sweep that suggests a western told from the Native American point of view.”

Directed by Zhuangzhuang Tian | Starring : Rigzin Tseshang, Jiji Dan, Daiba, Gaoba, Jamco Jayang | Presented at Fribourg Film Festival, San Francisco Film Festival